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Why Are Peanut Allergies So Common? Exploring the Causes Behind the Rise in Peanut Allergies

Peanut allergies are one of the most common allergies in the world, especially children. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people with peanut allergies, and researchers are trying to understand why. Parents are trying to understand why too!

One theory is that early exposure to peanuts may play a role in the development of peanut allergies. Another theory is that the rise in peanut allergies may be due to changes in the way peanuts are processed and consumed. Also, genetics may also play a role in the development of peanut allergies.

peanut allergy peanuts

What is a Peanut Allergy?

A peanut allergy is a type of food allergy that occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies peanuts as harmful and triggers an allergic reaction. This reaction can range from mild to severe and can even be life-threatening in some cases.

When a person with a peanut allergy consumes peanuts or food containing peanuts, the immune system releases chemicals such as histamine and IgE antibodies to fight off what it perceives as a harmful substance. These chemicals can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Hives or rash
  • Itching or tingling in the mouth or throat
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting

In severe cases, a peanut allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Anaphylaxis can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness.

I’ve written about my daughters peanut allergy before and a few things to note about how to live with a child with a peanut allergy. It’s not a fun thing to worry about.

living with a child with peanut allergy

One thing I really don’t understand is how exposure to peanuts at an early age might increase the risk of developing an allergy. When my kids were infants we were told not to give them peanuts until they were two. Now they are saying to expose them to small amounts of it starting at six months.

Does anyone really know how to prevent a peanut allergy?

Peanut Allergy Symptoms

People who are allergic to peanuts can experience a range of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms of peanut allergy include:

  • Hives or a rash
  • Itching or tingling in or around the mouth and throat
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain or diarrhea

In some cases, a peanut allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction. Anaphylaxis can cause:

  • Swelling of the throat and airways, making it difficult to breathe
  • A rapid or weak pulse
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Dizziness or fainting

My daughter’s symptoms were a rash around her mouth. Luckily we’ve never dealt with any anaphylaxis….not yet.

The Prevalence of Peanut Allergies

Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies, affecting millions of people worldwide. In the United States alone, approximately 1.2% of the population has a peanut allergy, making it one of the most prevalent food allergies in the country.

Even though we don’t know why the prevalence of peanut allergies is so high, there are several theories. One theory is that the widespread use of peanuts in processed foods and snacks has led to increased exposure and sensitization to peanuts in the population. Another theory suggests that changes in modern lifestyles, such as decreased exposure to microbes and increased use of antibiotics, may be contributing to the rise in food allergies, including peanut allergies.

Also did you know that peanut allergies are more common in children than in adults. According to some studies, up to 80% of children with a peanut allergy will not outgrow it. With that being said;

Now it seems that the majority of peanut allergies are in kids, but will these statistics shift as these children (who don’t outgrow the allergy) grow up? Food for thought.

Causes of Peanut Allergies

Despite the widespread prevalence of peanut allergies, the exact cause of this condition is still unknown. However, several factors have been identified as potential contributors to the development of peanut allergies.

One of the most widely accepted theories is that peanut allergies arise from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research suggests that individuals with a family history of allergies or asthma are more likely to develop peanut allergies.

Another theory is that the widespread use of peanuts in processed foods and snacks has contributed to the increase in peanut allergies. The introduction of peanuts into a child’s diet at an early age may also play a role in the development of peanut allergies.

Also, some studies have suggested that the roasting process used to prepare peanuts may alter the proteins in the nuts, making them more allergenic. Other studies have suggested that the presence of certain bacteria or toxins in peanuts may contribute to the development of peanut allergies.

Once again, does anyone really know what causes peanut allergies? I don’t think so.

Prevention and Treatment of Peanut Allergies

Here are some ways to prevent peanut allergies:

  • Avoid consuming peanuts and peanut products during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Introduce peanuts to children in small amounts and gradually increase the amount to prevent sensitization
  • Wash hands and surfaces after handling peanuts or peanut products

There is currently no cure for peanut allergies, but there are treatments available to manage the symptoms:

  • Epinephrine auto-injectors can be used to treat severe allergic reactions
  • Antihistamines can be used to relieve mild symptoms such as itching and hives
  • Allergen immunotherapy involves gradually exposing the patient to small amounts of the allergen in order to desensitize them to it

This being said, my daughter somehow outgrew her allergy last year. As mysterious as this was, her blood test and skin prick test were negative when we had her retested at age 8.

Once she tested negative we had to perform what was called a peanut challenge. It is dose-graded. This means the child is given small amounts of the peanut butter to eat and then watched for signs of an allergic reaction.

This in office challenge took about 4 hours, and by the end of the session she said she hated peanut butter.

Lucky for us, she passed the test with flying colors- aka she had no allergic reaction.


While the exact cause of peanut allergies remains unclear, there are several factors that could contribute to it. Genetics, environmental factors, and changes in food processing and consumption habits could all play a role. It is likely that all three of these are responsible for the rise in peanut allergies over the past few decades.

There are still so many things about the rise of the peanut allergy that are a mystery. What are your thoughts?

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